Proven, practical measures to reach or even push beyond Canada’s 2030 greenhouse gas reduction targets will be the focus for the federal government’s new climate change advisory panel, co-chair Steven Guilbeault told The Energy Mix in an exclusive interview Sunday.
While details of the panel’s mandate are still being finalized, Guilbeault and co-chair Tamara Vrooman, president and CEO of Vancity Credit Union, are operating on a short timeline: they’re due to report their findings back to Environment and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna and Finance Minister Bill Morneau in spring 2019.
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Morneau called  the two “clean growth leaders” last Wednesday, when he delivered his fall economic update in the House of Commons.
“My hope is that we’re able to go out across Canada and meet people, organizations, communities, municipalities, that are doing interesting things that for one reason or another haven’t been captured in the pan-Canadian framework  so far,” Guilbeault told The Mix. While Morneau instructed the panel to pay special attention to carbon reductions in buildings and transportation, Guilbeault said he and Vrooman will have scope to look farther afield, as well. They may be joined by additional panelists, possibly with mandates to address specific aspects of the issue.
“There are a lot of amazing things happening in Canada,” he said, citing the zero-emission vehicle mandates introduced some time ago in Quebec, and just recently in British Columbia . And while “my plan is not to start travelling and adding to my CO2 footprint,” there may be lessons to be learned from other countries’ experiences, as well.
With limited time and a limited mandate, it’s unlikely the panel will fund efforts by civil society to develop feedback or mobilize around the process. “I sincerely doubt there will be some big structure build around the panel,” Guilbeault said. But “that doesn’t preclude us going out and meeting with different groups and organizations” to collect ideas that will “move the needle a bit, if not a big bit, on climate in Canada”.
Guilbeault and Vrooman will also have access to government modelling to sort out the emission reductions and financial implications—positive or negative—of the new strategies they recommend.
He added that the panel won’t set out to review past government decisions—and won’t likely get into policy areas like climate risk disclosure or the accountability mechanism backing up the pan-Canadian plan. “We’re not equipped to write legislation or regulations,” he said. “We’re looking for ideas for programs or initiatives that will result in emission reductions. Issues like reporting and accountability fall a little bit outside our mandate,” although with that mandate still being finalized, “I’m not closing any doors yet.”
Guilbeault added that “the government has a pretty good idea of what they’re getting by asking me to be one of the co-chairs. My position on a number of issues regarding Canada’s climate policy is publicly known, there are no secrets there.”
At the same time, “I want to see if we’ve left some stone unturned. Maybe there are things government hasn’t been able to look at so far, or hasn’t had time to dig into, and that’s where we can help.” He also pointed to fuel price protests in France and elsewhere as examples of the risks governments can run when climate policy gets ahead of public opinion.
“it’s easy for us as climate activists to feel very passionate. We’re very worried about what we’re seeing, and we would like things to go very quickly,” he said. “At the same time, I think it’s the government’s job to ensure that we move on this together as a nation, and people don’t feel left out or short-changed in the process. Because if that starts to happen, I’m not sure it’s going to help us move where we need to go.” In that light, “if Tamara and I can help them move this in a way that builds social cohesion, then we will have achieved our goals.”
When Morneau announced the panel, Conservative environment critic Ed Fast said the panel should have had more business representation, particularly from the resource, small business, and finance sectors. “We should probably remind him that Vancity manages more than $25 billion in member assets,” Guilbeault said. “Someone who can do that in the context of the Canadian economy probably has a pretty good grasp of what it is to manage money and invest it in a very responsible way.”
The panel’s role “is to have our eyes on where the Canadian economy, and frankly where the world economy is moving,” he added. “There are clear transformations that are happening, and will be very positive if they’re done well. Part of our role is to highlight what that can mean concretely for the Canadian society—for the economy, sure, but for the society as a whole, as well.”